The “polite gays,” was how Tracy and Kathryn described themselves. Not political or loud, not obvious or overt, but understated, in keeping with their Oklahoma surroundings. Never asking anyone to think too hard or talk too much about the fact that they were gay at all. Except now they were about to ask everyone they knew to think about it, because they’d decided to have a wedding.
“Okay, here are our wedding plans, right here,” Tracy Curtis said, opening her notebook at the Hideaway Pizza and scanning the friends she and her partner, Kathryn Frazier, had invited to their inaugural planning session. “If you’ll notice, this notebook’s empty. We need help.”
“Tracy, I don’t know.” Across the table, one friend half-raised her hand. “I just haven’t been to many gay weddings. And I’m gay. We’re in kind of uncharted territory.”
They were at this restaurant because in October the Supreme Court decided to let several lower court marriage rulings stand, which made same-sex unions legal in some of the country’s reddest states, including theirs. The next day, Tracy and Kathryn picked up a marriage license on the advice of a lawyer friend who told them to hurry before this suddenly opened window closed. But after a two-minute ceremony, Kathryn, 39, went to work and Tracy, 44, went to a doctor’s appointment, and then went home and cried because what they’d just experienced felt like checking something off a list, not like getting married.
And so now, in November, they were at the Hideaway to plan an actual wedding, to take place in a state where 62 percent of people in a recent poll said they didn’t approve of same-sex marriage — and 52 percent said they felt that way strongly.
One friend suggested that the reception could have a casino night theme. A teenager at the table wondered why the couple hadn’t chosen their outfits a long time ago — “Because, honey, we didn’t think we could ever get married in Oklahoma,” Kathryn explained — and someone else started ticking off venues. Tracy had a vision of guests holding candles. But centerpieces? Flowers? Music? Thinking of it all made them feel overwhelmed, especially when it came to one question above all: Who would come to this wedding?
A few nights later, the couple sat at their dining room table and went over prospective guests. They still didn’t have a venue, but they’d chosen a day, in January, and they’d made enough save-the-date cards to send to 86 people, a list Tracy had written on the bottom of her Bible study worksheet and kept re-counting.
“Are they coming?” Kathryn asked, pointing to one of the names in surprise.
“I don’t think they’ll come,” Tracy said. “We’re just sending a postcard to be polite.” She looked at another name and laughed. “I just cannot imagine inviting her to this wedding.”
But they would, they decided. They would invite everybody to this wedding and let them decide for themselves whether to come.
“It feels very emotional and vulnerable to be inviting all these people,” Kathryn said.
“But that’s why you have a wedding,” Tracy replied.
So the next week, they put the save-the-dates in the mail, and soon after, the invitations, and then they waited.
Oklahoma. This was a place where Kathryn’s workplace had a cussing jar, a quarter per swear, and the words written on it, “Let Go and Let God.” Here, Christianity was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and Oklahoma football was the religion — Tracy and Kathryn were believers — and people could be decent and kind and judgmental, sometimes all at once, which was why, when Tracy told some Rotary Club friends that she and Kathryn were getting married, she kept her eyes planted above their heads so she wouldn’t have to look at their faces.
Tracy and Kathryn had been together for seven years and known each other for 18, but they began worrying about everything in their lives that could be disrupted by this ceremony. They worried about offending people. They worried when Tracy called their top choice for a venue. At first the woman who answered the phone said the location was available, then she asked for the bride’s name — “Kathryn” — and the groom’s name — “Tracy” — and then, when she figured out that Tracy was not a man but a woman, she explained that they didn’t do same-sex weddings and wouldn’t accommodate the party after all.
“We had our first run-in with meanness the other day,” Kathryn told her mother, Jane Webb, the next morning when they met for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel.
“Well, did you have to tell them it was a gay wedding?” Jane brainstormed. “Couldn’t you just say you were having a beer fest?”
“Now, I haven’t told him about the wedding, and I’m not sure that I intend to,” Jane said a few minutes later, bringing up her own worries about her husband, Kathryn’s stepfather. He hadn’t reacted well to learning she was gay.
Kathryn wondered: Would her stepfather come to the wedding? Tracy wondered: Would her parents come? Her empathetic mother and her ex-military father?
What about Kathryn’s boss, Tim? He and Kathryn talked all the time about homosexuality and the Bible, and his wife, Kelly, was the leader of Tracy’s Bible study. The two couples had eaten dinners at each other’s homes and been friends for more than a decade — but would Tim and Kelly come to the wedding?
The person Kathryn wondered about most was her biological father. He had raised her; after his divorce from Jane, it was the two of them alone in a small, boxy house in the middle of open plains. He was a rural postman and the job suited him — a solitary route that took him down the same path, every day, a hundred miles of roads. His world was predictable and contained, and Kathryn hadn’t found the right way to talk to him about the wedding.
Tracy didn’t know they hadn’t spoken. She sent his invitation in a batch with all the others — and now Kathryn had no choice but to call her father, or he would learn about the ceremony by checking the mail. As the words about the invitation came spilling out, they became words about why she and Tracy had decided, despite all their worries, to have this wedding.
She told him that she didn’t think there was anything wrong with the way she and Tracy felt about each other. She said that marriage was an important rite in the history of humanity, something people had been doing throughout time, and something she wanted to be a part of. She told him that marriage, as a value, was American.
He didn’t say anything. There was only silence on the other end of the line.
“I’d like for you to come,” Kathryn said after a while. She left it at that.
The first RSVP arrived in the middle of December, addressed to “Bride Central.” Tracy saw it in the mailbox but made herself wait until Kathryn was home to open it. Inside was a response from a teenage girl Tracy had mentored at a homeless shelter. “This will be my first wedding!” the girl wrote, and the couple took the card inside and started to make a pile: three more “Will Attends” arrived the next day, five the day after that.
By then they’d found a venue, a tea house on Main Street, whose owner recalled telling them, “I haven’t been exposed much to that life, but I love all God’s children,” and by then Tracy’s mother had phoned with a request.
“Tracy,” Diana Lobrano asked her daughter in a serious voice. “Would you consider wearing your grandmother’s wedding dress?”
Tracy snorted before she could help herself. The gown may have been an heirloom, but her grandmother was a diminutive size six and Tracy was a tall 14 — it would never fit. But in that moment, Tracy began to realize that other people were taking this ceremony seriously.
They ordered trays of cupcakes and truffles, downloaded dance tutorials and made multiple trips to Dillard’s, where a white-haired clerk sold Kathryn a gray blazer and helped Tracy find an evening gown, then a different gown, and a different gown when she still couldn’t make up her mind. They told the clerk they needed the clothes for a wedding; they were too worried about what she might think to tell her the wedding was theirs.
A few weeks before the wedding, Tracy’s parents arrived from South Carolina, where they’d moved several years before. On their first night in town, her father came into the kitchen while Tracy and Kathryn were washing dishes. He told them he had a question he felt a little awkward about asking.
Bill Curtis was politically conservative. A retired technical sergeant with the Air National Guard, he thought that things might have been easier before the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, when someone would know another person was gay but not talk about it. He questioned news polls that said that the majority of Americans supported same-sex marriage. People on the coasts might, he thought, but he wasn’t sure about people in the middle of the country.
He also thought that his daughter was a good person who deserved to be happy, with the same rights as everyone else, and so he had packed a gray suit and a selection of ties and driven 17 hours with Diana to be at the ceremony.
Now, in the kitchen, he asked, “Is there a role you would like me to have in this wedding?”
He didn’t mean to presume or impose, he said — he just wanted to offer.
A week before the wedding, the pile had grown to 67 affirmative RSVPs: Tracy’s sister, in California. An old friend in Washington state. Brandon, the 22-year-old Tracy and Kathryn gained custody of after his mother died five years before, would be driving up from Florida. There were a handful of no’s — “This is our annual duck hunt weekend,” one invitee apologized — but Tracy and Kathryn were starting to feel optimistic. “Maybe I underestimated the people around me,” Tracy said. They still hadn’t heard from Kathryn’s boss, Tim, though, and they still hadn’t heard from Kathryn’s dad. They’d visited him for the holidays, but he didn’t bring up the wedding then and neither did they, and finally, with six days to go, Kathryn telephoned and asked whether he was coming. There was another uncomfortable silence.
“I don’t want you to hate me, and I don’t want you to disown me,” she would remember him telling her. “But I just want things to stay as they are.” He would not be coming.
Kathryn didn’t ask him why. “Mad is not the right word,” she told him. “But I am disappointed.”
Two days later, Kathryn’s mother called. She would not be coming either — a medical procedure had been scheduled for a few days before the wedding and she didn’t know whether she’d be recovered in time.
“It’s really okay,” Kathryn told herself.
A few hours after that call, Tim stopped by Kathryn’s office to ask about a service request in Prague, Okla., several miles out of their normal coverage area.
“I told them I’d have to bill them double,” Kathryn said.
“At least,” Tim said.
“It’s about a 50-minute drive.”
“I trust you,” he said, and soon after he left, Kathryn’s cellphone rang.
Tracy was on the other end. She’d just gone to the mailbox and found an RSVP, she said. It was from Tim and Kelly. They wouldn’t be coming.
“Mmm-hmm,” Kathryn said, staring at the window in front of her as Tracy told her about the thoughtful card the Lashars had sent along with their RSVP.
A few minutes later, Tim came back in. “Where is Prague, anyway?” he joked. “Isn’t that in Europe?”
Kathryn took a deep breath. She laughed, and meanwhile, back at the house, after Tracy talked with Kathryn, Tracy’s father pulled her into the kitchen and asked that his daughter hear him out on something.
Don’t recite vows, he suggested. Have a party, not a wedding — it just seemed like that might be the sensitive thing to do. Besides, he pointed out, they were technically already married.
That wasn’t the point, Tracy remembered telling him. Their ceremony in October had been done in haste with court decisions in mind. They wanted, she told her father, to feel married.
Two days to go now, and across town Tim and Kelly were waiting for Kathryn to come by to pick up a projector they’d said they would lend her for the ceremony.
They cared about Kathryn, they explained, and they cared about Tracy, too. They said they believed that if Kathryn got sick, Tracy should be allowed to visit her in the hospital. They thought everybody should be allowed to designate one “person” — the loved one with whom they’d legally decided to share their lives. It was obvious to them that Tracy and Kathryn could be each other’s “people.”
But marriage, they said, was something holy and biblical, something whose definition shouldn’t be changed.
In the greeting-card section of the store, Kelly said, she had hesitated over which card she should buy to accompany the RSVP saying they wouldn’t be attending. A card with bride and a groom seemed insensitive. She ended up choosing one with a dog holding a glass of champagne, after which she and Tim crafted the message inside together: “The two of you have been special to our family in many ways, and we pray nothing but happiness for you.”
And then the greeting card and the RSVP card sat, unmailed, on Tim and Kelly’s kitchen counter, until they were a full week late. Kelly liked to include notes on her RSVPs — saying that her family was looking forward to attending an event, or that she was sorry they couldn’t come — but for this wedding, she hadn’t been able to think of a message she could honestly write. “Sorry this is so late!” she wrote finally, underneath the box checked “Cannot Attend.”
They knew the card had probably arrived by now, but Tim still hadn’t talked with Kathryn about it at work. “I’m sure we’ll discuss it at some point,” he said. “Because I have to wonder if they think, deep down, that we don’t accept them.”
Kelly was silent for a moment. “I do think that deep down, in the quiet of their hearts, they might wonder that.”
A few minutes later, there was a knock at the door, and Kathryn came into the foyer to examine the projector with Kelly.
“They have a big white wall there, and that’s where you’re going to want to project it,” Kelly suggested. She knew the tea house — it was the same place she held her Bible studies. “Is it going to be a thing where people are looking at it, or is it just looping?”
“Just looping,” Kathryn said. She explained that the reception would have tables with games, and the slideshow would be playing in the background.
“It’s a good, strong bulb,” Kelly said. “It shouldn’t burn out. I would hate for you to take it and then have it burn out in the middle.”
“Are you planning on coming in to work tomorrow?” Tim asked.
“I’m not sure.”
“Don’t make a trip in,” he said. “I’ll handle the calls.”
Less than 24 hours left, and Kathryn and Tracy were staying up late with Tracy’s family, checking off last-minute details and talking about the final guest count.
“Every solitary day here, there is someone disapproving of my life,” Kathryn said to Tracy’s mother, who was upset with some of the people who weren’t coming.
“Every minute, probably,” Diana responded.
“Every second,” Tracy said.
“But to some degree,” Kathryn said, “if you’re a gay person living in Oklahoma, you’re just going to have to decide how to respond to that.”
“It’s a process,” Tracy said.
“Maybe this is not the ending journey for some people,” Kathryn said. “Maybe this is the beginning. Maybe our wedding will be useful for later in their journey.” Her father wasn’t coming, her mother and stepfather weren’t coming — perhaps nobody in her family was coming, but she didn’t want to lose relationships over this wedding.
“Sometimes I do feel like an abomination,” Tracy said, a few minutes later.
Diana shook her head. “Don’t. Don’t you ever let people say you’re an abomination.”
“There is no deeper question that they can have about me that I haven’t had about myself,” Kathryn said. “I’m a gay Christian in Oklahoma — there is no greater cosmic joke than for me to be a gay Christian.”
“You have to understand,” Tracy told her family, finally. “For some of these people, we’re the only gay people they’ve ever met.”
Tracy and Kathryn went to bed, and in the middle of the night Kathryn woke Tracy up, twice, to shake her arm and say, “We’re getting married today, can you believe it?” — and in the morning Kathryn’s stepsister called. She wouldn’t be coming — she had the flu. A good friend in Texas called — he was sick, too. Not coming.
Mid-morning, Kathryn made a final run to Dillard’s to buy a different shirt to wear under her blazer. The same clerk was there, the tiny white-haired woman who had helped on their previous shopping excursions, and with whom Tracy and Kathryn had avoided talking about the ceremony.
This time, however, the clerk asked directly: The wedding Kathryn had bought clothes for — who, exactly, was getting married?
Kathryn later remembered bowing her head to her chest, not wanting to make eye contact. She felt her muscles tense as she decided whether to set herself up for another possible rejection. “Do you know that woman I’ve been coming in here with?” she finally said.
“I thought that might be it, but I wasn’t going to ask,” the clerk said. Then she started jumping up and down in the middle of the store, grabbing Kathryn’s arms, saying, “I’m so excited for you!”
Kathryn looked into the elated face of the clerk whose name she didn’t know, and she burst into tears.
Tracy painted her toenails, hobbling around the living room to dry them, and then carefully slid on her new high heels. One hour before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, Kathryn put on her own shoes — sparkly Vans sneakers — and showed them to Tracy’s father.
“I know you’re jealous of my footwear,” she said. “I can just tell.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call it jealous,” Bill said.
She beckoned him into the kitchen. “I have a boutonniere for you, Mr. Curtis.”
He fumbled with the rose and then handed it back to her. “Can you put it on?” he asked. Kathryn pinned the flower to Bill’s lapel. “That looks fine,” he told her. “That’s just fine.”
“You’re all set.”
And then there was almost nothing left to do and almost no time left to worry. Tracy’s parents left for the venue so they could greet early guests. The couple was alone in the house.
“Are you happy with how I look?” Kathryn asked. “Is my hair good?”
“I think you look fantastic,” Tracy said. “How do I look?”
“You look beautiful.”
“I have lots of crying things — if we start to cry, I can whip some Puffs out of my bra.”
“Okay,” Kathryn laughed.
“I want you to know that I have prayed for us many times today, because I’m so excited,” Tracy told Kathryn as they got in their truck to drive to the ceremony. “I just — I hope I don’t miss our moment.”
“You won’t,” Kathryn said. “We won’t. Because we are going to take a deep breath. And we’re going to be fine.”
Kathryn pulled into a parking space a block from the tea house, and as they got out of the truck, her phone beeped with a message. “I just got a ding,” she said. It was a text from Brandon saying that everyone had arrived, and Tracy and Kathryn could come inside whenever they wanted.
They walked toward Main Street in Norman, Okla. When they got all the way to the door, they looked inside and saw the dim glow of candles held by the 60 guests who had decided to come.
“Ready?” Kathryn asked, and they went inside and had a wedding.